Thursday, December 4, 2014

Belly up: Modifying exercises for pregnancy

Knees, belly, knees, rise. Knees, belly, knees, rise. Find that belly button and introduce it to the bar. Knees, belly, knees, rise. Knees, belly, knees, rise. Belly up to that bar, y'all.

 photo class-bodypum_zps6d4a0313.jpg

I've repeated those cues, given during a barbell row, so many times over the past 2.5 years teaching Bodypump and Rip (a non-licensed barbell program very similar to BP) that I repeat them without thinking. The moves, too, are nearly second nature.

But as I was teaching this week, demonstrating from the side to illustrate a neutral spine, I noticed that my elbows weren't going straight back. My bar was going straight to the belly. Well, it was but my changing body has also changed my range of motion. I was having trouble really hitting the traps and lats, which are the primary muscle groups targeted in a bentover row.

It was a bummer, and I had to fight not to let it affect the class. The back track is one of my favorites to teach — and to perform. It's intense and strong, and I love the results — physically and physiologically. I can't do it being sullen. Rather, I need energy and power.

After class, after the benches were put away and the weights racked, I grabbed a light bar and thought about what I could do. Here's what I came up with:

Change the range. The traditional grip row (in Bodypump) goes knees to belly button to knees. There are other grips, though — mid and wide, each changing the target of the motion. By going with a wider grip, I bring the bar to the rib cage, which is unobstructed.

Refocus. After a few reps, it's easy to get sloppy with form. The result? Sub-par results and possible injury by recruiting secondary muscles to do the work. Taking a millisecond before each rep to rotate at the shoulders and bring the elbows to the midline can make the difference in a workout.

Mind to muscle. The neuromuscular pathway is something we don't think about training but they are the foundation of good form and achieving results.

"Neuromuscular pathways are the communication channels between the brain and the muscles. Whenever a person wants to perform a certain movement, skill, or task it is along these pathways that the brain informs the body’s muscles what action is going to be required to accomplish the goal at hand." (Source)

For me, a part of this training is being very conscious about what I'm doing during each part of the movement. I focus on the shoulder blades squeezing together as I bring the bar back. I hold the top of the row briefly to feel the pinch. I feel the muscles return to a resting state as the bar goes down. My focus is feeling those muscles work, feeling the concentric movement and the eccentric. It really helps to achieve results. For example, when I put this focus into a squat, squeezing the glutes at the top of the movement, I am sore for days.

Switch equipment. During a class, this might not always be an option but changing the form of resistance can lead to a better range of motion. A band row, for example, comes from the knees to the ribs. Elbows still shoot straight back and the shoulders still come together but the range of motion isn't determined by the size of a belly. A dumbbell row is another option, and performing a single version allows for more unobstructed movement.

Change exercises. A bentover row is one of my favorite exercises for targeting the posterior but there might be a time when I need to change it entirely. A reverse flye would focus on the trapezius and rhomboids while also recruiting the triceps and part of the deltoids. A band pull will target the same area.

Disclaimer: Though I am an ACE certified personal trainer and a certified Bodypump instructor, I am not your trainer. Please consult a medical professional before beginning any exercise program and seek out a fitness professional to discuss proper form. These modifications are based on my personal experience and should not be considered professional advice. 


  1. Bodypump / Rip / Barbell Strength (as it's called at my gym) is my FAVORITE class. I think it's awesome that you're still getting after it. Our class was subbed by a VERY pregnant instructor once and she was just getting after it. I was so inspired!

  2. These are great tips! I still loved doing strength classes while pregnant! They made me feel so strong and like myself.